Going all the way Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

Julia Huang was getting frustrated.

The CEO of interTrend Communications Inc. was eager to introduce her company to a new client, but she had to do so over and over again because her contact person changed several times over the course of a year. That’s when she realized she needed to establish multiple contacts within the company, so that when one changed, she could still move forward.

Today, this multilevel communication strategy has become the bedrock of the way Huang does business, pushing interTrend — which helps companies target Asian-American audiences — to 2007 revenue of more than $12 million.

Smart Business spoke with Huang about staying in touch with clients consistently, without becoming a pest.

Q. How do you effectively maintain communication with clients?

Phone calls and e-mails are essential, but nothing beats face to face. People just tend to bond when you have face to face.

Clients don’t want to be burdened with the responsibility of having you fly to New York from Seattle, so that very casual call — saying, ‘We are in New York for another business; would you have time for coffee?’ — helps a lot. Most clients will have that 10 or 15 minutes to allow for face to face.

On phones and e-mails, you don’t talk about things that might be offline. When you’re on e-mail, when you’re on the telephone, if you talk about those things ... it just sounds so nebulous. But when you’re face to face, and when you just kind of mention it, you see their face lighten up and you know you’ve made that connection.

Next time you communicate with them on e-mails and telephones, the dynamics really change.

Q. Once you’ve made a connection, how do maintain it?

You have to continue that frequent, systematic communication with a potential client. But there’s that fine line between establishing frequent communication and being a pest.

I appreciate people that conscientiously continue to be in touch with me, even though there is no business immediately. I think we’re lacking a lot of that. You can’t think that the person will make a business decision right there and then.

It’s such an instant gratification process, new business development, that you think, ‘Oh, there is no money to be made in the next five minutes; this is cold,’ but it’s not.

Q. How do you balance maintaining frequent communication and not becoming a pest?

With the clients that we already have a relationship with, I have very regular meeting time with the CMOs and CEOs, but I only ask for 10-minute appointments. Then, make a point within those 10 minutes, if not five minutes. You have to understand that when you hang up the phone or walk out of that office, you are not their priority.

So you have to take advantage of that window of opportunity.

Q. How do you take the best advantage of those 10 minutes?

We are extremely lucky in that when we are called in for potential business, they are already interested in our industry. So we don’t have to go in and talk too much about the industry in general but basically brag about ourselves.

We go in and talk about ourselves first. Really home in on who you are as a company rather than the industry that you’re in. Clients want to be entertained with interesting things — not the demographics, not the nitty-gritty.

Nitty-gritty can come later, when they become interested in who you are. When all things are equal, clients tend to hire people that they like, and people like interesting people.

Q. How important is it to maintain multiple contacts within a client company?

Multilevel communication has proven to be the most effective way of communicating with the client in general. Different levels of managers and different levels of executives have different agendas that they have to push in their capacity.

When there’s a breakdown of communication at a certain level, you have the opportunity to call a different level and try to understand the situation and keep it on track.

We have seen day-to-day contacts that have a turnover every six months sometimes — they move on to other positions within the company or move on to another company. Not having the multilevel relationship really disadvantages us in that situation.

A lot of decisions are made in different levels. ... [Businesses] approaching our company always insist on only talking to me, because they think that if they make an impression upon me, that the business is closed, but it’s rarely the case.

I usually say, ‘Let’s involve other people.’ But they’ll say, ‘No, I only want to talk to you,’ which I think is a big mistake.

— Megan Tackett contributed to this story.

HOW TO REACH: interTrend Communications Inc., (562) 733-1888 or www.intertrend.com